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Romeo and Juliet is rife with the powerful contrasting passions of Love and Hate. Since this work is a drama, Shakespeare has chosen to convey these emotions through characters’ language. This essay will examine how dialogue is used to demonstrate their passions.
Hate is almost solely embodied by Tybalt, cousin to the Capulets and therefore an enemy of the house of Montague. This young man is described by his fellow characters as being “furious” (III i.121), “fiery” (I.i.109) and possessing of an “unruly spleen” (III.i.157) which, in Shakespeare’s day, accounted for his choleric character and quick temper. When he first enters the scene, he immediately tries to quarrel with Benevolio, for the sole reason that he is a kinsman of Romeo. When Benevolio says that he only wants to keep the peace, Tybalt passionately replies: “I hate the word as I hate hell, all Montagues and thee. Have at thee, coward!” (I.i.69-71).
Tybalts hatred is so intense that he desires to kill anyone who has any association with Romeo, including the peace-loving Benevolio. Moreover, he is blinded by passion, for the fact that he claims to hate hell and yet lusts for Montague blood is a contradiction in terms, for according to Christian belief, murders will burn forever in hell-fire. There seem to be a few reasons for Tybalt’s hatred: one, is because Romeo, being an only child, is the only person able to continue the line of Montague in Verona – if he was to die, that hated house would die with him; and secondly, because Romeo was a well-bred, virtuous lad liked by all, including the patriarch of the Capulets. At the ball, when Tybalt tells his uncle that “villain Romeo” (I.v.64) is there uninvited and he wants to be rid of him, Capulet orders Tybalt to leave Romeo in peace, lest he destroy the happy atmosphere. Tybalt, for whom this ‘happy atmosphere’ has already been destroyed by the presence of his enemy, stubbornly tells his uncle that he won’t “endure him” (I.v.76), provoking his uncle’s anger upon himself: if he cannot endure Romeo’s presence at the feast, then he can leave. Tybalt does this, but not before muttering a passionate threat against Romeo.
TYBALT: Patience perforce with choler meeting
Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting.
I will withdraw. But this intrusion shall,
Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall. (I.v.89-92)
The hard guttural sounds and his choice of words show that Tybalt is having difficulty controlling his anger. He will plan his revenge on Romeo – now, not only because of the age-old feud, but also because his presence at the ball was the cause of Capulet’s chiding mockery towards his nephew, which stung Tybalt’s proud nature.
It must be noted here that while Tybalt is being consumed by his hatred for Romeo, the latter is falling inexorably in love with Juliet . The link between these two conflicting passions of love and hate is further strengthened by the characters’ use of rhyming verse in both instances, whereas the rest of the play is predominantly written in blank verse or iambic pentameter. This highlights for the audience the areas in the play where these passions are at their highest point.
Let us now turn our attention to the other recurring passion in the play: that of love. This theme as sene in Romeo and Juliet can be divided into two specific categories: the elevated passion of true love, the “type of love that goes beyond the common, that is special and worth patience and suffering” , and the baser passion of lust, pertaining more to a “fine foot, straight leg, and a quivering thigh” (II.i.19)
The play opens with a dialogue between two servants of the Capulet household. Their ability to turn a phrase makes their banter enjoyably light and witty, but their punning soon turns to scarcely veiled sexual innuendoes.
SAMPSON: … I will be civil with the
maids – I will cut off their heads.
GREGORY: The heads of the maids?
SAMPSON: Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maiden-
heads. Take it in what sense thou wilt (I.i.21-25)
From this opening exchange, it is made clear to the audience that language and the manipulation of the spoken word will be an important motif of the play, used to illustrate the passionate feelings which each character is trying to convey – in this case, the lower, more vulgar natures of the Capulet manservants.
But let us not neglect the fairer sex when dealing with the passion of lust as portrayed by the characters’ choice of language. Juliet’s nurse often speaks in double entendres, most notably in Act One, Scene Three where she is even silenced by Lady Capulet.
NURSE: Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit.
Wilt thou not, Jule?
LADY CAPULET: Enough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace. (I.iii.43-44;50)
According to critic Adrian Poole, the Nurse is telling Juliet that she will be ready to make love once she has more understanding and this time has arrived : “To see now how a jest shall come about!” (I.iii.46) It would seem that in the Nurse’s opinion. Love and sex equate to the same thing, and now that Juliet is of an age to be married, her thoughts immediately gravitate towards the loss of Juliet’s “maidenhead” (I.iii.2), echoing the lusty conversation of the servants mentioned above.
However, the unbiased observer will notice that it is not merely the Capulet servants who are driven by lustful passions. In what is sometimes referred to as the “Queen Mab Speech” , we see that Mercutio too enjoys dabbling with double entendres and bawdy puns. Towards the end of this speech he mentions maids who “lie on their backs:” (I.iv.92), which is similar to the Nurse’s comments in the previous scene about the time having come for Juliet to “fall backwards” (I.iii.43). Moreover, just as the nurse is silenced by Lady Capulet, Mercutio is interrupted midsentence by Romeo’s “Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talkest of nothing” (I.iv.95-96). Romeo’d choice of words here would suggest that Mercutio had been speaking quite passionately, so much so that his friend had felt compelled to repeatedly use the word ‘peace’ in an effort to calm him.
In Act Two, Scene One, Mercutio spouts forth more passionate language in a similar style to the speech previously mentioned – his references to magic, the gods (infamous for their lustful liaisons) and the fact that he speaks in exclamations for some of the time would illustrate that this speech is intended to be passionate. Morover, it seems that where Mercutio is, lustful expressions are sure to follow; “O, Romeo, that she were, o that she were an open-arse and thou a poppering pear!” (II.i.37-38). Is there any need to explain the passionate lust which inspired this expression? Coupled with the puns on the word ‘medlars’ in the previous lines of this speech (‘to meddle’ in Shakespeare’s time being a common term for sexual activity) , the passionate nature of this particular speech is undeniable.
Yet Mercutio’s vulgar choice of language and the ribald talk of the Capulet servants is intended to do more than simply express the erotic passions as felt by these characters. It also serves to beautify and set apart the different type of passion between Romeo and Juliet as being above all other loves, of being out of the ordinary. Where Romeo’s previous infatuation with Rosaline was founded on unrequited lust and Petrarchian poetry, here we find that he has become a master of language in his own right. What need is there to spout the stale musings of the Ancients when one possesses the ability and wit to manipulate language for oneself? When speaking of his love for Rosaline, his heart does not seem to be in his words, but when he speaks of and to Juliet, we feel that he is praying with his whole heart and soul, and that she is in a way, his life-giving force. Not to be outdone by Romeo, Juliet uses language which is both witty and flirtatiously charged. One could go so far as to say an element of danger can be detected, as this emotion of love is a novelty to her – is she ‘playing with fire’? When the two lovers speak, the chemistry between them is evident. So united are they in their love that they go one step further than simply completing each other’s sentences. When they speak together they create poetry. In Act One, Scene Five, when Romeo and Juliet first meet, their flirtatious banter forms a sonnet, the poetic form associated with love. As one critic writes: “ What appeals to the reader is…the exquisite composition, metrical melody, dulcet music, and lovely imagery of the play” . The lovers’ masterful use of the English language appeals to one’s intellect and soul, in contrast to the effect Mercutio’s speeches for instance might have on one’s lower nature.
Yet it cannot be denied that eros is present between Romeo and Juliet, for the lovers voice their sexual desires in a mature and adult manner. Act Three, Scene Two opens with Juliet waiting impatiently for Romeo to arrive so that they might consummate their marriage.
JULIET: Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus’ lodging…
Spread thy close curtain, love performing night…(III.i.1-2;5)
From this speech it is evident that Juliet is as knowledgeable as any of the other characters as to what she should expect on her wedding-night, but the difference between Juliet’s speech and the lustful talk of Mercutio is the strong sense of fidelity she has towards her soul mate.
JULIET: O I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it; and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. (III.ii.26-28)
She has vowed faithfulness to Romeo, and in return she has received his own pledge of fidelity towards her. Mercutio, on the other hand, fails to discriminate – to him, a woman is no more than a “fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh” (II.i.19) Their love is the elevated passion of true love which is not solely based on sexual relations.
Another idea closely linked with the erotic side of the lovers’ passion is that both Romeo and Juliet often make use of language techniques such as assonance and alliteration when they speak to one another.
ROMEO: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged! (I.v.109)
This particular choice of language techniques has an interesting effect on the listener – the words are soft and sensual, the sounds of seduction, like the whisper just before a kiss.
“Yet every utterance of the young lovers is bubbling with emotion; as it excites, it exalts as well.” The lovers still manage to make their passion seem above that of any of the other characters. The elevated sense of their love is largely due to their constant use of religious metaphors. When they first meet, Romeo speaks of himself as a sinner, and of Juliet as a shrine and his only hope of absolution. These spiritual allusions are intended to show that their love is out of the ordinary, pure and exalted, pertaining more to the Divine than to the mundane. The fact that they continue to use religious references throughout the rest of the play shows us that they place supreme importance on their love, even to the extent where it takes precedence over the Institutor of religion, God Himself. Juliet blasphemously refers to Romeo as “the God of my idolatry” (II.i.156) and when Romeo is banished from Verona on account of the murder of Tybalt, he states that banishment is worse than torture, or death, or even hell itself, for “Heaven is here, where Juliet lives” (II.iii.29-30). According to Christian belief, the absence of God is what causes the damned in hell so much pain; likewise Romeo believes that the torture of banishment will be the absence of Juliet. Thus through their language we can see that the lovers have elevated each other to a level surpassing even God. In the end, religion “demands priorities that Romeo and Juliet cannot abide by because of the intensity of their love” , and as a result they think nothing of taking their own lives to escape the problems which their uncontrolled passions have created.
In conclusion, Shakespeare has successfully portrayed the passionate sides of each of his characters through their choice of dialogue and language. This achievement would therefore be at its peak when the play is in performance.
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